Getting the Hell Out of Hell

March 10, 2017:

With a deal struck with Papa Midnite, Jessica Jones, Red Robin, Bucky Barnes and Dr. Jane Foster finally breach Limbo to retrieve John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara, but their own exploits in Hell only ensure that the party lands in the midst of a desperate firefight between the magicians and Mammon, the Demon Prince of Excess, and his demonic horde.

Limbo - Hell

This is Hell's version of New York City.

Characters

NPCs: Papa Midnite, Mammon

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The address given to Dr. Jane Foster and Bucky Barnes (via a series of conveniently-formed welts on the smooth skin of a deceased woman's forehead, because apparently post-it notes are too passe for the world of magic) leads to a small nightclub facade on a piece of midtown waterfront property. It has an unremarkable exterior. Most the loitering patrons outside of its front doors are people of color, though they seem to have no single unifying ethnic background: there are Haitian accents and African immigrant voices interspersed with overheard pidgin Spanish and French. The unifying element, of course, is the personage — and therefore by extension the religion and practice — at the heart of the establishment's existence.

Papa Midnite owns more than a few nightclubs in the New York City area. In fact, he owns more than just a few parcels of land spread across the entire breadth of the city. Not merely one of the more powerful Houngan in the United States — or anywhere else — he also sits at the spidery center of a web of organized criminal elements. His reach is long, his wallet deep.

They are expected. Whatever weapons they have, they are nevertheless directed away from the front door of the club and around the corner to a side door, where a bouncer even larger than the last looks them over disinterestedly before waving them through. Inside, the muffled bass thumps of the main floor barely penetrate the walls as they descend a set of wide stairs into a basement area considerably more expansive — and populated — than the upstairs venue. The vast majority of the lighting originates from naked flame, from white-wax candles ringed on every available surface in the expansive room. Individuals sit in clusters on the shadowy outlines of velvet furniture, still and psychotropic tableaus against the dark-painted brick, most in fugues of self-discovery, or on some other impenetrable spiritual errand. Some pairs of dark eyes watch with fearless, guarded interest as the group is shown in, but there is no open hostility: anyone in this part of the club is here by the invitation of Papa Midnite, of course.

He's waiting on the far side of the room, and he is difficult to miss.

He is a big, powerful man, though he dresses his broad-shouldered, thick-armed musculature with an eye toward opulence, wearing a silk shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest beneath a brocade jacket. His slacks and highly-polished wingtip shoes are more subtle, but there are large, heavy rings on his fingers, and with his arms folded they wink against his sleeves in the firelight. His head is clean-shaven enough that it, too, gleams, and so do his eyes as he watches his guests arrive.

"Good evening, ladies, gentlemen." The deep, sonorous quality of his voice is even more pronounced in person, the kind of voice that resonates in the gut of the listener. "Not a moment too soon. I'm afraid you'll want to hurry. My sources in Limbo tell me that our mutual acquaintances have run into some trouble." His gaze slides along to rest on each of them independently, but they linger on Jane, for whom he summons a wide smile that would be charming if it were not connected with someone like Papa Midnite. "While I regret that we won't have time to get acquainted, Jane Foster, it would be best if you were all prepared to begin. Are you ready?"

—-

No weapons for Jessica Jones; she arrives with herself. Her hands are tucked tightly into the pockets of her jacket as she marks this night club and its location. She marks everything. Entrances. Bouncers. Clientele. It may not matter today, but someday it might matter a lot. It's another part of New York's landscape for her to memorize, another thing which might help her solve cases that much faster when something relevant comes across her desk.

You know. If they live through the night or anything.

She studies Midnite too, and likes not at all how he leers at Jane. Why the interest in her, specifically? What the hell has happened that she doesn't know about yet? Surely Bucky has the situation under control though, whatever it is. Nevertheless, dark eyes narrow protectively.

In reply, however, she merely nods once, tense and disinclined to speak. She's prepared. She's ready. As ready as she's ever gonna be, anyway, to go take the walking Open House preview tour of some part of what is probably her final destination after death. Or which might in fact kill her or anyone standing her before the night is through.

—-

Red Robin is, of course, armed in his own particular way.

As always, he's draped from head to toe in the red and black of his armored costume, a lean spike of shadow with featureless white eyes and an almost incongruously human mouth. Despite that, he moves as though he were the one dressed appropriately, and everyone else was somehow clad strangely: There's no apparent disquiet or unease, just focused, confident self-assurance. The suit helps, truth be told. The cowl hides anything approaching a real human emotion. Agitation, fear, anger, excitement.

He doesn't like this place, and in particular when they arrive before Papa Midnite, he doesn't like this /man/, who reminds him of the leering specter in the nightmares he's lived with for the past five years, and who sits at the heart of so much misery himself.

Still, sometimes there's only one way forward. That's fine. For now.

"Get on with it," the vigilante rasps in his electronically modified voice. If things have gotten worse, there's no point in standing around.

—-

For the record, today is the 100th birthday of James Buchanan Barnes.

He isn't thrilled about how he's spending it.

In contrast to Jessica Jones, he shows up with all the weapons. He's honestly only one facemask away from full Winter Soldier kit. He seems prepared to deal with it if the sheer amount of armaments he is carrying are not approved of by the bouncers, though he's not really expecting that much resistance. This Papa Midnite character knows full well where they are going, and can't expect Bucky to just go in there without full preparations.

In fact, he's prepared perhaps a little more than anyone might expect, but more on that later.

He takes point as they are ushered in to speak with Papa Midnite, partially because they have 'spoken' prior and nominally have some business interaction here, and partially because he doesn't like the way the asshole is looking at Jane.

"No need for small talk," he says tersely, cutting off any idea of 'getting acquainted with Jane.' "Let's do what we came here to do."

—-

Dressed for a sort of business she's never before been acquainted, and still not sure how to have properly prepared, Jane Foster arrives in jeans and black, outfitted with a cropped, leather coat that gives her enough protection at the arms. She's brought her own manage of weaponry, one half — the obvious half — gifted by Bucky Barnes in the form of two small firearms holstered, semi-discreetly, at her side and the small of her back, and the other half lugged along in a messenger bag she totes along, carrying her laptop, among other strange, perhaps-necessary things.

She's got two necklaces on, one carrying the medallion Jessica once lent her — etched with the bleeding eye — and, somewhat more hidden, her Magen David. Because, if Hell may indeed be a thing — it seems like the place for it.

Though her dark eyes are sleepless, and more than a little askance, Jane has her game face on. Or closest to a game face she has. She absorbs the way in among many, darting looks, transparently fascinated, though her fingers tighten around the strap of her bag, antsy, impatient — already wanting their two friends home safe.

Finally able to place a face to that /voice/ that trickled out the mouth of a dead woman, she catches first glimpse of Papa Midnite. Her frown, already in place hours ago, deepens considerably at talk of hurrying. Then his attention strays, and fixes on her, and Jane freezes in place, wary. She swallows; she knows politeness can go a long way, and she doesn't want the man with the power to send everyone on another plane of existence to be offended. "Thank you, Mr. Midnite," she answers. "Maybe some— "

And that's when Bucky cuts in. Jane, perhaps with some relief, goes quiet. But at mention of readying, and as others speak their assent, her back straightens up in silent assent.

—-

"So terse," Midnite says as Jane is interrupted by her compatriots, playing his gaze over the grim assembly. His tone is not unamused; there is a phantom wryness that haunts his aspect, entertained by the proceedings. His eyes glitter. "So eager, for people who are moments from tainting their lungs with infernal air. Remind me to ask you," he continues, extending a hand to gesture at one of the shadows lingering on the periphery, "When you return, how it is that you found yourself walking into Hell for John Constantine." The shadow resolves, placing a small pouch in Papa's hand. It's leather of a mysterious type best not thought about too deeply. "I have seen some tragedies in my time, mes amis, but that is some /cooyon grim shit/."

At Midnite's feet, symbols chalked and dripped in sand and wax shimmer faintly as he dips his fingers into the bag in his hand and fine particles trail downward, co-mingling with the latent magics inscribed there. He does not stand on ceremony: he lifts his hand, dust clinging visibly in ghostly film to dark skin, and as he leans forward he blows the dust from his fingertips in an arc that sweeps across the four of them — it smells of nothing but tingles in the nose and the lungs, causes a sudden, pervasive numbness throughout the body — and as the surplus drizzles downward it links them with whatever he's created in the scrawlings on the floor.

Tangled light rises in spits from the lines etched below them, fountaining upward and unfolding like the new leaves of a rising vine into shapes that mean nothing at first, only indistinct outlines, sudden movements, swirling colors. Gradually these begin to resolve, taking on definition, and what is created is a display, then a /hole/, like a window, or a door.

The sound is first to travel through. The heavy collision of bodies against other bodies, or stone; the sound of sharp points on cracked pavement. Inhuman banshee shrieking, gutteral roars and the crack-rush of massive leathery wings in flight. Then comes the scent, gusting toward them on sweltering puffs of acrid air: blood, rotting meat, dust, stone, stale and dead atmosphere. Fire. The tang of magic, familiar to anyone who has been present when John or Zatanna has been at work.

And then finally the images, pieces swirling together into lockstep at least to reveal a scene of ongoing conflict more considerable than the word 'trouble' might have led them to believe: they'll see a kind of decaying urban arena, buildings that resemble, but are not entirely like, those of New York City, wasted ruins and husks of metropolis, ringing a sandy expanse flanked on one side by a wall that appears infinitely tall beneath the angry red sky.

The arena is dominated by Zatanna's efforts to combat what is literally a horde of demons, brilliant, searing flashes of pale blue light marking every assault against their swarming ranks. Behind her, facing the limitlessly tall wall, is John, pushing and shoving something along the groove of a metal track within that wall. Whatever he's doing, it ignites a configuration of pinprick lights against the dull stone in a rising pattern above him.

From this side of the portal, all that can be determined is that they're both whole, and filthy.

"Bon chance," says Midnite, as the dust inside of the rescue party tugs once, hard, at the core of each of the four, and drags them through the portal into Limbo.

—-

The firefight is massive; whatever Zatanna is doing with her magic has formed a semi-circular perimeter around herself and John, and whatever hesitation that she may have had before about tapping into her reserves has vanished completely in the heat of the moment. She /burns/, her dusty, black-clad form wreathed in wisps of incandescently pure blue-white magic, irises swallowed up by the white glow emanating from them. And she would need this, because without it, Mammon's troops would have annihilated her and John already - and as John busies himself with the gate, it leaves the raven-haired magician to hold off a good portion of Hell's armies away from him while he does his work.

But she can do very little without destabilizing Limbo; she has enough power in her to destroy an entire plane and she attempts to keep this in check by keeping her attempts defensive rather than offensive, switching out her normally aggressive tactics in an effort to buy herself some time. Her hands are out and she maintains the perimeter by using shockwaves of force to push back demons and other infernal creatures - amidst the writhing mast of sulfur-ensconced bodies are others; winged abominations and their riders darken the skies, hulking eldtrich monsters doing their best to push through the young woman's defenses….and even more dangerously, unseen, are Mammon's hellhounds, baying, four-legged creatures with fearsome visages. Legend has it that the look of them could stop the heart of ordinary mortals, hence why they are invisible - but the fact that they move quickly and are unseen by the naked eye renders them the wildcards in Mammon's current battleplans.

The Demon Prince of Excess, himself, is in attendance, if not just to exact his pound of flesh from the offense that Zatanna Zatara had inflicted on him and his own in her gambit to liberate John Constantine from his clutches. He cannot be missed, even though he is nowhere in the front. In the midst of an empty stretch of ruined New York-in-Hell is an /absurdly fat/ demon, with burly shoulders and rolls upon rolls that make up his center mass. These globs of flesh dangle limply from the beleaguered beast that he is riding - a white unicorn. God and Lucifer might be the only ones who know just /how/ the hell Mammon managed to get one down there to carry his massive ass into battle, but there it is. The magnificent creature is clearly struggling to hold his weight up, pitiful neighs snorting out of flared nostrils.

He has not recovered from the nigh-near apocalyptic onslaught Zatanna had inflicted on him days ago; one of his eyes is still missing, but thankfully he has managed to mask the grotesque, gaping hole with something red, elastic and strawberry-flavored, bound diagonally across his face in some kind of eyepatch. It looks disturbingly like…

…edible underwear?

"Zatanna, baby!" he calls out amidst snarls and explosions. "Is all of this really /necessary/? I mean, the surprise party wasn't all that bad was it? Was it because I didn't shave Johnny-boy before you saw him again? I thought the grunge look was totally working for him!"

The young woman, in the midst of everything she's doing, manages to throw a ball of white-blue fire in his general direction. Demons rush to protect their prince. There is another explosion, black ichor and dismembered limbs flying in the air.

"OH MY GOD, JUST SHUT UP ALREADY!" she cries, pointing at his direction. "I'M NOT YOUR GOD DAMN BABY AND WE ARE /LEAVING/ YOUR STUPID DOMAIN RIGHT NOW!"

—-

"John Constantine is our friend." Jessica Jones snaps suddenly, "And he would walk into Hell for any of us."

It may not be politic, but her temper is slowly defraying. She shuts up though, when he gets on with it. Not, she supposes, that her defense of Constantine would probably change that; he's doing this now for his own purposes, and they're going to get met. She watches this mess with the dust and scowls thoughtfully, a scowl which only deepens as she watches the vine, the outlines, the movements, the door.

Sound and scent make her look a little sick. But her jaw juts with determination, her eyes harden and narrow; the bulldog is out in force, and she is on the hunt.

Because there are her friends.

She does not wait. She leaps through the portal with one of those power-leaps of hers. She pulls her strength for humans.

Demons get no such courtesy. She rears back her fist with all her might, using a messy upper-cut motion that she may have been practicing because she saw Bucky do it once to try to catch one of the demons hard in the solar plexus, shattering bone, driving him up. She slams him into the ground.

Here, there is an outlet for all the rage and frustration she's been feeling. She hasn't mastered that whole void thing yet. She's barely novice'd that whole void thing yet.

But…it should be noted she's not just wading in and letting herself get hit, either. She's learned that much. She dodges a sudden claw swipe, not neatly, but effectively, staggering back out of the way. She elbow strikes a demon that tries to leap on her back, sending it flying to crack the wall of one of the buildings. She's paying attention to what's around her now that she's jumped into it. She's been doing her homework, Dad.

"You two," she calls, gritting her teeth as she kicks a demon hard into his fellows, "pick," another strike at another target, "the lousiest…" here, she leaps back to avoid getting stabbed in the gut by something which she only distantly registers as trying to stab her, "vacation spots!"

—-

Eager is the wrong word, surely.

Red Robin would hardly characterise himself as /eager/, except perhaps to get this over with. The weeks of furious searching, of meddling with things that by all reasonable senses they should not be meddling with. But, there are two people in danger, in perhaps as much danger as it was possible to be /in/, and the whole reason he puts on the cape and cowl night in and night out is to get other people out of danger.

The math is bad, of course, if you look at it coldly: Four for the sake of two. Two who, if anyone was capable of getting themselves out on their own, it would be them. But he was never the sort of person to sit back and do nothing and hope for the best, and he knows that the others aren't either, so. So.

The visible mouth below Red Robin's cowl gives Papa Midnite a tight, unpleasant smile, enough to communicate that he wouldn't answer that question even if they did come back to give him the occasion to ask. And the rest…

He doesn't wait either, the blackness of his cape fluttering behind him as he willingly hurls himself in along with Jessica Jones, already trying to make sense of the senseless situation. The situation is deeply unpleasant by any stretch of the imagination, the sensors in his cowl picking up all sorts of completely ridiculous things that honestly he'd never expected them to.

"'76," the vigilante says. "You know how I was giving you shit before about lethal shots?" All the way back to their first jaunt into the Cold Flame's headquarters, in fact. "Not this time. Go nuts."

Red Robin is already reaching into his utility belt, pulling out golden discs that he starts hurling at the infernal forms assailing Zatanna's barrier, noticing as he does some kind of skulking hounds… Hounds that /only/ turn up in infrared.

None of the discs are simple tools of distraction.

All of them explode.

Red Robin is also not playing around.

—-

"John Constantine walked into my hell for me," is all James Barnes says to reply Papa Midnite, and he leaves it at that.

He says nothing more, only waiting for the man to execute his spell. It tenses him up visibly, this thing he does not understand coming from hands he does not trust (he has tentatively gotten used to John doing weird shit around and on him). It forms a portal of sorts, a door into Limbo— into a landscape that really can't be called anything but 'hellish.'

And of course, John and Zatanna are right smack in the middle of the worst part of the firefight. Two of them, against an army of hell and their dread commander.

Bucky takes this in with a wide, sweeping glance. "Hm," he summarizes, that one syllable encapsulating how not okay he is with actually seeing, literally, Hell, unshouldering the sniper rifle slung across his back. "I shoulda paid more attention in Sunday school."

He keeps track of the others as he readies his weapon deliberately— he certainly notices Jessica's improvements, though the time to speak about them is later.

Red Robin's comments get a snort. "I'll do what I judge appropriate regardless of the shit I do or don't get from you," he says, though his tone is more amiable than strictly annoyed. "I had my own command when your grandpa was still in short pants."

He does appreciate the explosives, though. They're good cover, and so he turns to Jane: "Help John. The rest of us will cover you."

He shoulders the rifle. It's not a weapon that a normal man could use well outside of a prone position. Bucky Barnes isn't a normal man. He stabilizes the thing on his prosthetic left arm in lieu of a bipod, squinting down the scope. One breath in, one breath out, pause to hold— then he fires.

He brought the .50. But not just the .50. He brought the .50, along with ammunition that is all painstakingly laced with small amounts of silver from a melted-down cross, worked in water from a baptismal font. Every single bullet he's carrying has a little, even down to the 9mm hollowpoints with little drips of silver in their pits. Bucky figures God will forgive him for stealing from St. Patrick's Cathedral, especially when the round in question is aimed dead square for Mammon's ugly, panty(?)-covered face.

Will it work? Who knows, but the Winter Soldier likes to prepare.

—-

Even anointed with dust not of this world, Jane Foster refuses to blink her eyes for a moment. Despite the urgency, and the adrenaline already running fire through her blood, she cannot help her utter fascination. She stores every bit of this process to memory, watching everything, witnessing all she can, no doubt asking herself a hundred silent questions to every piece of it — desperate to parse and quantify the mystical.

Once again, Jane watches in a yearning, breathless silence as another Eistein-Rosen Bridge opens. Not of her own creation, or by her own hands — but there. Existing.

She has no parting words for Papa Midnite's remark on them: Jane only turns her head and regards the mysterious man in her own, pensive silence. And then, in silent agreement, she jumps through the tear between words —

— and heralds what looks no less than a nightmare.

Gutted skyscrapers. The flyblown stink of rotting meat. A dead sky. And a moving army of demons currently making onslaught against Zatanna's last stand.

Jane's eyes widen and her pupils narrow. She tilts her head, so very slowly, angle deepening and deepening and deppening, because — "Is everyone else seeing this?"

Her voice is small. "I'm not the only one? OK? OK."

Taking in a deep breath of foul air that feels like glass on her lungs, she glances over at Bucky's command. Jane's eyes pinch with understanding. She pauses a moment, and says, "James."

It's all she needs to say. Her expression speaks the rest: don't get your stupid ass killed.

With that, she draws one of her own guns, if just needing the security of the weapon in her hand, and darts off, small enough to dodge the worst of the tide, and clever enough to keep on the periphery of the damage both Jessica and Red are causing, slipping by before more demons can replace the dead. Until, peeking up at his back, is the tiniest and most unlikely little thing John Constantine beholds among a blitzkrieg of the damned.

It's Jane Foster, looking a little shell-shocked, and a lot more breathless, and perhaps realizing this is the first time she's seen him in weeks. Her lips are quirked up, incongruous with the strain in her eyes, but there are some moments in life all you have the sanity to do is smile. "Hey, John. Need a hand?"

—-

As Jessica lays to waste a few demons that attempt to close in on John and Zatanna, Red Robin manages to blow up several demons that attempt to do the same on the other side of Zatanna's barrier. The interference has the raven-haired young woman turn her head, gawking at the sight of familiar figures that are just /there/, with no other doorway in sight to give a clue as to how they managed to get there - Midnite's portal had shut the moment everyone was through, trapping /all of them/ in Hell. For a moment, she thinks she is hallucinating, a filthy hand scrubbing over her eyes.

"Jess?! Red?!" Her pale face grows ashen. "How did you guys /get here/?!"

Two more emerge from the chaos of the fight and her astonishment grows. "Bucky?! Jane?!" Oh god, oh god, oh god, what were they /doing/ here, they—

And before she can say anything more, Bucky unshoulders his sniper rifle and fires a holy bullet towards Mammon, who looks up just in time for the consecrated round to enter through his edible eyepatch and through his healing skull. There's a pause, a clawed hand reaching up to cover the hole that the Winter Soldier left behind.

"Ah fuck, the heroes are here," he mutters…just as the back of his cranium starts sizzling. "What the here?!"

It /hurts/. With a blood-curdling bellow, the Demon Prince falls off his unicorn, which staggers away, suddenly relieved of its burden. It runs wild, horn twisting around as it barrels uncontrollably into a cadre of demons on one side in a panicked effort to get /away/. Sight of Mammon is obscured by the ensuing chaos as the rest of his party throw themselves bodily to form a barricade between Mammon and the rest.

The fliers that darken the skies swoop downward; balls of hellfire start raining from their higher vantage point, dwarfed, suddenly, by the arrival of a bigger creature than the twisted draconic things that Mammon's cavalry is riding. Bigger, scaled and armed with rows of teeth, tattered, leathery wings beat thunderously overhead…and then it dives.

It aims for Zatanna Zatara.

Not too close, however; for all of its bestial appearance, it knows better and knows that there are several down below that can pose a threat to it. A long, barbed, prehensile tongue unfurls instead as it takes a flying swoop across, lashing outward and burying the point of its appendage between the ribs and through the magician's back. A shout of pain parts her lips, violently twisted from whatever it is that she intends to do. As it rips away, so does she, lurching off her feet and into the air as it…

…opens its mouth, and swallows her while the fast-acting paralytic in its saliva floods her system. It moves /fast/, and clears ground quickly. Its prize secure, it tilts in the air to start moving away from the conflict.

Things go downhill immediately there. The barrier shatters, and the horde closes in. The invisible hellhounds finally sense an opening, and launch a triple-pronged offensive. One of the massive invisible beasts surge forward, one of its heads dipping in an effort to suddenly throw Bucky bodily into an incoming contingent of demons. The other two tear through the perimeter, towards Jane and John as they struggle with the Gate and its complex, mystical mechanisms.

—-

John Constantine is in rough shape.

He was in rougher shape at some point, clearly, as the bloodstains that darken areas where his clothing has been torn or pierced no longer seem to create windows onto healing wounds — a courtesy of the witch doing pitched battle against the forces of Hell, no doubt. He's thinner than he should be, though. Weaker than he should be. He is struggling to move dust-clogged mechanisms within the lower part of the infinite wall — which, upon closer inspection, is not a wall at all, but an infinitely tall /door/. The thin seam that bisects it is faint but evident, and whatever he's doing at the base of it must be related to opening it, but it's clearly a work in progress. Patterns of dots shift and twist overhead in ways that suggest three dimensional space, represented on a two-dimensional plane. It is an opaque, mysterious mess of a thing at first glance, and the concentration necessary for him to manipulate the lock is difficult to summon when he's constantly being menaced by things that don't want him to do that, including /invisible hellhounds/.

The hellhounds are nothing compared with the distraction that comes next. He hears additional combatants. Shouting, explosions. He turns his head to look over his shoulder — one bright blue eye the only thing in his face that isn't the color of the landscape by now, smeared by dust that runs on his skin like mud where he's sweating — and stops in his tracks. "What in the— "

He stares for moments longer than he usually would. John's quick-witted in a crisis and not prone to being agog, as it wastes precious seconds…but after two months and change in Hell, depleted the way he is, what he sees takes him long moments to process. The sight of those four familiar faces — well, four familiar faces and a familiar cowl, really — strikes him momentarily numb, and then replaces numbness with sick gratitude, a rush of exhausted warmth. "You wee, daft prats," he says, largely to himself, in a voice hoarse with strain and affection.

"Jane!" Raising his voice that way, shouting across the distance, costs him. He answers her smile with an incredulous one of his own. "As it happens, this gate's right up your all — "

And then, over her shoulder, he sees the flying monstrosity /eat Zatanna/.

"/ZEE!/" He hadn't thought his ruined voice could furnish a roar like that one, and hadn't believed his drained body could supply him with enough energy to bolt in that direction at a dead sprint, but both of those things are true. The energy that crackles to life around one of his arms is like the white lace of a tesla coil's electrical arcs, and it snaps off of him, hurled through the air after the thing that contains her —

And it summarily, and with little difficulty as it gains distance from the melee, flicks him aside with its tail. Jane, briefly abandoned, finds herself in his company again as he's hurled back toward the door and into it, hitting it with a heavy, cracking sound. He is instantly unconscious, which spares everyone the necessity of listening to him rant about 'what's the deal with demons chucking me into walls.'

Of course, this leaves negotiating the mysteries of the door and securing their exit wholly to Jane Foster.

—-

A fireball. The stench of burning leather as it strikes the jacket of one Wee Daft Prat of Four, Private Eye. Jessica slaps out the flames, even as she slams her foot into the knee of a demon wielding a long, black knife. She grabs his hand and breaks it, shattering bone, a maneuver she's gratified to find still works here. She headbutts it for good measure and lets it fall.

She happens to look up in time to see the massive beast take Zatanna and take to the air. She'll need more than strength, too. She snatches up the dark dagger in one smooth motion, then starts running to give herself the start she needs. She knows in a singular instance that there's only one of them here who can retrieve Zee now, and that's her.

There is no hesitation now, only snarling focus. She leaps. She soars. She finds herself gaining more air, more ground than she's ever tried to in the past. The dark haired woman has no thought but to take this creature out, to take him down. He is fast, but she times the jump, and suddenly she is tangled with it, one hand wrapped tightly around its neck, one leg monkeying around its body while the other dangles wildly. Her left hand reaches up to slam against his mouth. He can spit poison at that. He can paralyze that. Her right hand is busy. She plants that knife deep into the chest of the thing, not too deep, but deep enough to cut it, and draws it down, intending to cut Zatanna from the belly of the beast. There is no mercy and there is no hesitation; she has to move fast if she wants this sister of her heart to survive the encounter. And god, then she's going to have to time it because if Zee falls out the drop and catch are going to have to be perfect. No pressure.

Well actually THAT IS A LOT OF FREAKING PRESSURE.

So of course she handles it in her singular way.

"DIE, YOU FUCKING SHIT OF A SHITTING DOUCHE CANOE SHITWAD!" Look. It's not eloquent. But it relieves stress and helps one focus. That's science or some shit. Deal.

—-

"Trade secret," is Red Robin's calm retort to Zatanna's understandably frantic and possibly rhetorical question. He wasn't expecting the portal to stay open anyway; Midnite didn't seem like the sort of person to leave them an easy way out. He can't help, though, but feel a sense of relief when the raven-haired magician addresses them, after the weeks of searching.

Still, there's work to be done.

"Just try to not shoot me in the back this time," Red Robin retorts to Bucky, the words surprisingly genial, as the Winter Soldier busies himself with his anti-materiel rifle and doing harm to the materiel of the Demon Prince of Excess. Perhaps the insanity of the whole situation makes it easier to take in stride, or maybe somebody like Red Robin has been through enough /extremely/ weird situations that a Hellish landscape and an army of demons just kind of fits of a piece. Maybe it's a little of both.

Of course, then the giant dragon thing shows up.

"ZEE!!" Red Robin shouts as the magician is impaled on the thing's tongue and then swallowed whole, completely forgetting in a moment of horrible, visceral panic that Red Robin doesn't refer to her like that at all. The thought that after everything, they'd arrived just in time to see her die.

And then the Hounds of Hell attack.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

"Barnes, look out!" he calls towards the Winter Soldier, knowing that for all his enhancements from Hydra's experimentation, he can't see like Red Robin can. Quickly, he reaches for the small of his back, drawing one of his collapsible staves, snapping it into its extended form… And then with a twist, a blade springs from one end. Twisting, the former Boy Wonder hurls the spear at the invisible Hound attacking Bucky, the titanium blade sharp enough to pierce nearly anything.

Also, about two seconds after it sticks into the Hound, the explosive gel filling the weapon goes off.

He came loaded for bear. Demon bear.

There's no time to stop and look, no time to wait and see if it succeeded, if Barnes is safe: Red Robin is already charging towards the wall, towards tiny Jane Foster, moving through the press of the damned and the fallen like a liquid shadow, knocking away anything in his path with brute strength and finely honed expertise, and a whole lot of gadgets. Things explode. Things suddenly freeze into blocks of ice. And then Red Robin leaps off the back of some horrible monster to land on one of the Hounds closing on Jane. For all the world, it looks like he's standing in midair.

Another disc is hurled towards the second Hound, a pressurised gel to gum up its mouths.

Of course, that leaves him to deal with the one he's standing on.

And, you know, all the other monsters.

—-

James, Jane prompts. The look Bucky gives her is positively cavalier. You watch YOUR ass.

Some of that cavalier expression definitely drops when Tim quips about the shot to the back, though. It's a sensitive subject, clearly, but Bucky doesn't waste time on it now.

Instead he tracks Jane briefly as she makes her way over to John, though once she seems clear he refocuses on what he perceives as the greatest threat present. Perhaps a 'cut off the head and the body will die' scenario. He lines up the shot, takes it, and brief satisfaction flickers in Bucky's blue eyes as his bullet wings home— and bothers the Prince of Excess enough that he falls right off his steed, freeing the poor thing from its torment. "Well, that'll have to be enough birthday present for me," he muses.

He tries to line up another shot, but Mammon is quick to lose himself in a pressing hoard of demons that form a living(?) shield. With a curse Bucky lifts his eye from the scope… only for his gaze to widen as some sort of flying monstrosity that eats Zee and flaps off, knocking John the hell out in the process.

"Oh, fuck that," the Winter Soldier growls, lifting his rifle immediately again and starting to sight down the scope in an attempt to assist Jessica with the creature—

— only to suddenly lower the weapon and look to the left as Red Robin shouts a warning, alerted a split second too late before an invisible hellhound cannons into him and sends him flying into a group of demons. The agile ex-assassin twists in the air to get his feet back under him, skidding to a halt as he considers his position.

Pinioned between a pile of demons and a hellhound. This is a bad situation—

— and then an explosive spear flies at the hound. Bucky gives Red one curt nod as he slings the rifle back onto his back and takes up the carbine strapped across his chest instead. It too is loaded with a magazine full of blessed rounds: he unloads into the gaggle of demons around him, trying to cut a path through to where he sees Red engaged with the two hounds menacing Jane.

—-

So much happens so fast.

Rushed up to John Constantine's side, her helpless smile finally turned off him as she gazes up and up the puzzle doorway, Jane listens to him speak. She wastes no time to ask, "Yeah?"

And then he /screams/. Yells with a volume Jane had never heard on him before. She stiffens up, then spins on heel, the blood draining out of her face in time to witness Zatanna get /punctured through/ and pulled into the maw of some THING. The breath kicks out of her. She cannot even yell her own dismay. All she feels is an icy stab of sickness. Are they too late?! All this way, and too late?

Not that Jane has long to thing. Constantine steals all her attention, and the glow of magic radiating off his arms briefly casts her face in diffuse light. And then — the beast knocks him aside.

Her stomach twists up at the sound his head makes, his body makes, smashing into that door. "John!" Jane has the breath back enough to say, untangling from her messenger back and kneeling down at his side. She glances up, a helpless look turned after the fleeing beast, catching the incredible way Jessica leaps up after —

— there's nothing she can do to help that, but she can do this, and putting fears in their boxes, concentrating — FOCUS, Jane — she checks John's pulse and pulls off her coat to bunch and help stabilize his head. She looks back on the door. No matter what happens, she has to get it open.

Hunkered close to the unconscious Constantine, protective of his vulnerable body, Jane pulls out her laptop, and… with a short lack of space, sets it on his stomach and opens it from sleep. She opens up a vector plot program, and looking up at the door, runs every mental calculation she can in her head. She sorts and groups them, inserts them into formulae, tries to parse them into binary.

Nothing seems to make sense. "You don't think Hell uses hexadecimal?" Jane asks aimlessly of Constantine's unconscious body. "Get it? Hell? Hex?" She frowns into her laptop screen. "Nobody gets it."

She turns the patterns around and around in her head, lips pursed, eyes twitching every way when the sea of demons gets too dangerously close, though her tunnel vision refuses her to spare it a glance. Can't distract herself. Can't waste time. She needs to think, needs to visualize, needs to just imagine those points in space and — holy shit.

Holy shit! thinks Jane. And then "HOLY SHIT!" she says, aloud, shrieking, as Red Robin barrels perilously close, wrangling an apparent monster she cannot even see. And then a glimpse of Bucky — thank GOD still in one piece — cutting in closer her way. "I can get us out!" she tries to yell over the clamour. The unspoken addendum: just keep this bullshit off me!

—-

John's discharge of magic zaps the creature and its tail lashes out instinctively, knocking him out. But it does give Jess the time she needs to line herself up and /leap/. The draconic flyer was not expecting that. It expects to get off scott free despite the clamor of people at the bottom, aiming to deliver Mammon's prize to the fallen prince somewhere in the writhing mass of crimson bodies below. Except that isn't quite what happens and Jessica Jones superhuman-leaps onto its neck, blade in hand. It stops short in the air, wild winds buffeting around it as leathery wings beat against open air, massive maw parting in a gutteral shriek. Black blood spurts outward when the private investigator slits its chest open and down. Viscous and sticky, it falls from the skies like rain…

With its belly split so neatly, Zatanna's fluid-drenched body slides out of it, a leg catching in the folds of its stomach and forcing her to dangle like a rag doll, intestines and miscellaneous viscera dangling around her like a grisly curtain. It gives Jessica a few precious seconds to position herself just before the magician's limp body slides out of it completely, on a free fall towards the ground below, to her death unless the private investigator takes advantage of the time afforded to her by circumstance. Yup. No pressure.

Pressure is aplenty on the ground. Red Robin's exploding blade manages to stab and adhere to the spine of the hellhound menacing Bucky and the resulting explosion manages to crack through its bones and effectively paralyzing it. It tilts and lands heavily on another group of demons just as the Winter Soldier unleashes a spray of gunfire towards another wave attempting to crush him with sheer numbers. They go down smoking, limbs shredded and leaving threads of bloody muscle, tendon and bone on the ground. He carves through the traffic like butter, and as he does…

"GET OFF!" Mammon shoves one of his more violently fanatic followers off him as he wrests his massive bulk upward. "You're supposed to protect me, not molest me!" He backhands the offender away, if one could call the action that. The slap takes the demon soldier's head clean off, sending it spiraling away like a soccer ball. One red, baleful eye searches the battlefield. Half his skull is /melting/, and it won't be long until he's incapacitated - temporarily, as it were. He can't /die/ in his own domain, after all, but he can be rendered useless, and whatever Bucky Barnes loaded his slug with does exactly that.

With a grunt, he yanks a spear away from one of his followers, takes aim with his one good eye, and sends the point flying across the not-insignificant distance towards Bucky's back as he attempts to get to Jane and Red.

The other hellound is in the process of just /eating/ John when Red Robin's gum-disc ensnares its mouths, rendering them incapable of opening or closed. It rears back, paws lifting in an effort to get whatever it is out of its maws. The one that the cowled vigilante is standing on top of does the same, skidding before it manages to get to Jane, its loud, eerie baying echoing loud and furious, bucking wildly like a steer in an attempt to dislodge its unwannted burden. One of its heads curls behind its shoulder to snap razor-sharp teeth in the nearest appendage on Red Robin that it could reach.

—-

John Constantine is a desk.

He's a really good desk, very stable. He does smell like a desk made out of a man who has been in Hell for two months, but really…beggars and choosers, Jane Foster.

—-

The moment Zatanna Zatara drops, Jessica does too, trusting that she's wounded the creature enough to ensure it's either going to die…or be real reluctant to try again. Covered in blood and slick with yuck isn't the best way to do this, but it is what it is. She uses the body to shove off, gritting her teeth and positioning her body towards the teen witch's, shoving the knife in her belt in case she needs it again as she spirals down, down, down, gets herself situated.

For a moment it is almost like she's flying. The wind is rushing in her hair, buffeting her body. She's picking up speed. For a moment she feels like she's controlling the whole thing, though that could just be adrenaline. It's only a feeling. Her mind only has one thought right now.

Catch her catch her catch her catch her catch her!

She strains, fingertips almost brushing Zee's. For a moment she's sure she's going to lose her.

Somehow she hurtles herself just a few inches forward, finds a way to propel herself even though she can't identify one god-blessed way that's even possible. Something inside her shifts for just a few shining moments, giving her exactly what she needs for the thirty seconds she needs it. Wet, leather clad arms snag Zatanna beneath the armpits and wrap firmly around her chest.

Jessica lets out an exultant whoop, but it's not celebration time yet. She's gotta fix this, because Zatanna's legs are dangling now. The way they're falling she'll end up breaking them. But they're going to…oh, she sees what to do.

She aims her body towards Mammon's massive belly. Only for a moment. She uses it as a soft place to launch off of once more, smirking fiercely. "Thanks for the assist, asshole."

That gives her enough height to adjust Zee in midair, getting one arm under her shoulders and neck and the other under her knees, much like she'd carried her into that bunker weeks ago. Weeks? Has it really only been weeks? It feels like a lifetime ago. Nevertheless, with Zee in a better position, she can commence aiming her feet near where Jane is using Constantine as a desk, landing with a thunk beside them both.

—-

Focus on what's in front of you. Focus on what you can do.

That's the mantra in the back of Red Robin's mind, as he tries to not think of the horrible possibilities of what might be befalling those outside of his immediate reach: He's able to keep Constantine from being immediately snacked upon by one of the hellhounds, and to distract the other one from doing likewise to Jane, but in both cases it's a temporary solution.

"Okay, good," Red Robin replies from his unsteady perch atop an angry demon dog that only he can see. He doesn't comment on Jane using Constantine as something to rest her laptop on. He does, however, ask this:

"So… Does Hell use hexadecimal?"

He didn't hear her earlier joke. He's just a nerd.

Unfortunately the moment of incongruous levity costs him: Sharp teeth sink into the armor on his right forearm, and his precarious balance which had previously been kept despite the thing's angry bucking is now gone, gone as he's yanked off of the creature's back and finds himself slamming roughly onto the ruined ground. It knocks the wind out of him. It should disorient him, between the impact, the loss of breath, and the general extreme pain.

Instead, he already has a cylinder from his bandolier; he squeezes it, shattering the little barrier inside of it, allowing the two chemicals inside to start mixing together, the temperature around the cylinder already dropping, dropping as he drives it into the hellhound's nostril. A little present, reverse-engineered from the cryonic breathroughs of a certain Doctor Victor Fries, the same technology he'd used on the snake-man at the fair; the same he'd used on others in the horde on his rampage through. Once enough of that one of the hound's heads is, well, frozen solid, he hammers it hard enough to shatter, getting his arm free and getting enough distance to get on his feet, drawing two staves now, extending both, and then turning them into spears: He's pretty sure his right arm is broken, but right now it doesn't matter.

"I'll hold them off, whatever it takes, Doctor Foster," the vigilante grits out. "Get that door open."

—-

An M4A1 carbine is not typically what you think of when you think of a holy weapon charged with carving swathes through the demonic host of hell. But when you're the Winter Soldier and you've got ammunition laced with sanctified silver, it sure works pretty well.

He uses it to carve a path through the demonic hordes in a desperate attempt to reach Jane and assist Red in defending her and the felled John. A glance upward seems to reveal Jessica has got Zatanna covered— good fucking job, Jessica, he thinks. Holy shit.

I can get us out! Jane yells. Bucky makes a gesture that could be interpreted as 'YES PLEASE DO THEN,' because he's busy clearing out the last vestiges of the demons too close to where Jane is frantically working.

That situational awareness he lectured Jessica about, however, is always on and always sharp as a tack; it hears, senses, feels something targeting his back, screaming towards him through the air. Whether it's the sound of the spearhead carving the dead air of hell, the vibrations of it in its murderous flight, or simply just that Bucky feels the murderous intent of the Demon Prince's eyes on him…

…the Winter Soldier whirls around almost at the last moment, his left arm shrieking in an arc to snatch the flying spear from the air. The force of the throw sends him skidding a few inches back as he cancels the weapon's momentum, his heels digging into the barren dust.

Then he pivots, finishing a full 360 turn, flips the spear in his grip, and hurls it onward himself. Straight at center mass of the hellhound whose jaws Red has temporarily incapacitated, with all the screaming force his left arm can muster.

—-

And then Red Robin makes her nerdy joke.

It's so absurd, made in the worst place at the worst time, that Jane jerks a glance up at him and bubbles up an incredulous laugh. "I know, right?!—"

And then an invisible hellhound bites into his arm. While she cannot see the monster in full, she can certainly see the trauma made into his limb, and she cries out in shock and sympathy. Not that it stops him, or deters him in any way, his ensuing fight just proving how /close/ those things are, perilously close, even so close to John and she'd never even know. The wretched sounds of their breathing circulate around her, and she drowns in her own helplessness, knowing even if she could fight back, it's time away from what she /should/ be doing, and it's to make sure they don't all /die/ here —

Helplessly, she turns a look back at Bucky, needing to reassure herself he's still here, still safe, and he amply demonstrates both with his emphatic PLEASE DO flailing.

It's grounding in its way, Bucky Barnes remembering how to be a /saucy jerk/ even at the mouth of Hell. That is, until she sights something too, instantaneous as the something prickles the soldier's senses. The spear. "James!!" she shrieks —

— but he's caught it, and she swallows her heart back down. And then Jessica's flightpath settles her back, close enough to earn Jane's pale face, eyes widened at the broken, unmoving body of Zatanna cradled in the woman's arms. "Jessica!" she yells, sure she's not going down until she's yelled everyone's names. Thank god. "Is she — " NO TIME, JANE.

"It's stars," she announces instead, even if no one's listening. no one's caring. She needs to talk this out, just to drown out the rest, just to pull herself back into her head. "Not our constellations, but our stars. Seen from somewhere else. I know it is. I have to — I could —" Jane looks at her laptop.

She snaps it shut. "I can do this."

Jane looks up at those patterns of lights. Her eyes move to chart them. Her eyes narrow, then slip unfocused, as she turns that order spatially in her head, mapping it against her memory, her vast, years of memory reading star charts — star charts /all in her head/. And she thinks —

"Mintaka. Antares. Ross 614. Alpha Serpentis. And… you. You're not." Jane thinks of one point of light. "You don't belong."

She gets it. She gets it. She rises quickly, turned for that moment away from everyone, away from the onslaught of demons, feeling her hands down the door as she finds gives and notches to adjust and manipulate those patterns.

Jane continues to mutter under her breath, the look in her eyes light years away. "Sirius. VZ Ceti. Gliese 208. The Sun. Barnard. You — you, you you." She hits more points and turns the pattern over and over, her mind adjusting it spatially.

She mutters star after star. Countless stars. "Beta Comae. Gamma Leporis. …Altair. And a stranger." She finds those misnomers, stars that she's never seen, never reocognized, and forges alignment of their unlikely bodies. And then, at the end, she seems to hit a terminus point —

— seven alien celestial bodies linked, and the vivid pattern of stars circulating around them.

—-

Mammon's aim is true. It can't not be, he's a Demon Prince of Hell, and if his skull wasn't presently doing its very best impression of a gory ice cream cone melting in the summer, he'd be capable of more than this. But the spear is snatched in mid-air, and Bucky manages to hurl it towards the gummed-up hellhound, straight into the chest. It unleashes a loud roar, before it topples.

"You— !" He is cut off when Jessica and her bundle land on his massive belly, the impact forcing his folds and everything about him to ripple like a basset hound shaking its jowls in slow motion. As she springboards off with Zatanna Zatara, the demon simply stares after them, everything else occurring too fast for him to parse or appreciate. "Oh Dad damn it! I can't /work/ under these conditions!" he curses, ripping off the rest of his edible eyepatch and shoving it in his mouth, fangs biting right into the holed-out crotch. He needs the sugar.

Red Robin manages to shatter one of the hellhound's heads, getting in position even as Jess lands close to their position with a paralyzed Zatanna, her eyes wide open and her lips straining to move, but she can't. The venom is in her system, and while it isn't fatal - and nobody really wants to know what happens if her insanely powerful non-lien soul is suddenly unleashed into the afterlife - it does render her incapable of moving. Those eyes shift to look over at the unconscious John, converted to a laptop desk, a quiet, helpless gurgle escaping her lips.

While their team regroups, so do Mammon's forces. There doesn't seem to be any end to their numbers, unless Jane gets the door open…

—-

The moment Jane slots the last moving piece into place, everybody will know it. There is a deep BOOM, the sound of a cosmic latch being undone somewhere. Pieces of the door are outlined by sheets of light that spear from previously invisible seams in it, rippling with dark blots of shadow as mechanisms within the massive vault face shift over and through one another.

It takes only ten seconds, perhaps, for the entire mass to reconfigure and then /split/ like a jigsaw puzzle in zero gravity, but on the ground, amidst the chaos of the pitched combat, it no doubt feels like an eternity.

Light, cleansing and wholesome, pours through the aperture, no landscape visible beyond, but there is a gentle sucking sensation, like that of an open doorway — the gate is open. Where it leads, who can say? What one can say for a certainty is that it leads somewhere that is not /here/.

And where the creatures of hell dare to get too close to the radiance that spills through it, they are incinerated by that light, dissolving into greasily films of ash.

And then through, into the light, a warm cradle of luminous purity, a tug at the core, a twist of gravity…

…and they land, all of them, in the middle of the New York Public Library, in a pile of stinking, bloody bodies, with an unholy din. The entire population of the library's main room turns all at once to look, creating a magnified whisper.

Somewhere in the back, someone angrily says, "SHHHH!"

—-

Jessica lands for the tail end of Jane's Bad Ass Science, and she sucks in an admiring breath. She glances at Constantine as if trying to figure out if she can fold up the laptop, tuck that under her arm, grab him along with Zee so she can haul them both out. Fortunately she is spared the choice by the sudden, blinding starfire that swallows them all and takes them home.

And then there she is, somewhere in a very gruesome dogpile in the middle of the library. For a moment one Jessica Jones can only stare about as they're so angrily shushed.

And then those who share this dogpile with her will be treated to a very, very rare sound. In fact, it's one they may never have heard. Because while Jessica Jones often chuffs in amusement, or gives wry-half smile quirks of her lips, or even, sometimes, a quick grin

She almost never laughs.

She's laughing now. It rolls out of her in one wild rush of happiness and relief. The shussher is about to be more scandalized, because the laughs are punctuated by the following words:

"Fuck me. Oh fuck me. Fuck me if we didn't just pull that off. Jesus Christ. No, fuck, don't use his name in vain right now…Jesus Christ? Thank you, Jesus Christ!" This is swallowed in another wild burst of helpless hilarity. Yeah, don't mind her.

—-

Home, or something close enough to it.

Red Robin lets out a slow exhalation when it becomes clear that they're now somewhere… Mostly safe, and are largely intact. At least, they're alive. For now. He pulls himself out of the pile and straightens up onto his feet, collapsing the blades and then the staves, slipping them away to wherever they go as he turns to look at the rest of the group, ignoring the attention they're getting. Quickly, quickly he surveys Constantine, and Zatanna. They're definitely injured: Zatanna's is more… Spectacular, but it's not good to get knocked unconscious and then not immediately wake back up, either.

"They need medical attention," he says, ignoring his own savaged arm. "I know a place, it's… Near enough." Of course, he's cultivated some contacts in his time in New York; if he was going to be operating in the city, well, he needed to have some kind of support network. Dr. Thompkins' clinic is an awfully long way away, and he has no interest in being dependent on SHIELD. It's amazing how easy it is to convince a doctor running a small clinic to help you out, once you've paid for plenty of brand new medical equipment so they can do their job.

The risk of moving the two magicians is of course offset by the necessity of doing so… Especially because sooner rather than later, someone is bound to be by to investigate this sudden appearance. Besides, with a couple of super strong people, getting everyone out is relatively speaking a cinch.

"That was incredible work, Doctor Foster," he adds. "You saved all of us."

—-

Finally making it to the side of Jane, Bucky ejects his spent magazine and reloads, preparing to hold off the waves of demons as long as necessary. 'As long as necessary' isn't really as long as it could be, though, because they have Jane Foster on their side, and Jane Foster is unequivocally a genius.

"Remind me to thank you properly later," he says, stunned, as she shortly gets the mechanism of the gate decoded and the entire thing cracked open with a wash of light. It's not clear where it leads, but the light looks and feels good, and it's not here, so he's willing to give it a shot; though he also seems intent to stand there until everyone else has gone through first, saving himself for last.

Of course, though, then the door solves that by equal opportunity dumping them all into the middle of the New York Public Library.

Where some busybody shushes them, really loudly.

"This place," Bucky observes disapprovingly from his position somewhere near the bottom of the tangle, as he slowly works to extricate himself so he can get up and carry people where they need to go, "hasn't changed a goddamned bit."

"And it's my fucking birthday," he adds, after a moment of thought. "Jesus Christ you people."

—-

"You better work!" Jane Foster screams at the door, in the midst of everything, with James Barnes covering her back. She kicks it for good measure. "Mystical magic leviosa open sesame bullshit, I figured you out! You damn well WORK because I am a GOD DAMNED GENIU — "

And it works. It works a lot.

Light gilds through and flares every inch of relieved, raw delight across her face. But there is no time for her to sit in exult, no time for her to really do anything but chuff a breathless laugh when Bucky proposes thanking her later. There's no time, with Hell's army closing in, to simply — take that leap of faith and cross worlds.

And end up in a library, in a messy pile of bloody, injured, but still alive bodies.

Jane checks for two sure things. The first is James Buchanan Barnes, whom she finds safe, if not grumbling about his birthday, and she lays her head wearily down on where she thinks is his chest. The second is her laptop, clutched protectively in her arms. All is well.

Jessica's having a curse spasm of joy, and without the heart to deter her, she mumbles her own incredulous laughter, attention reanimating to Red Robin's minding of people who need the hospital. Namely John and Zatanna. Namely /himself/ too. "They're OK? We're OK? Everyone's OK? Honest?"

And he says she saved them all.

"Don't thank me," Jane mumbles out breathlessly, "thank the cosmic distance ladder because it establishes parallax distance estimates for stars in the Milky Way."

A pause. She cranes her head back to look at the guy she's laying on.

"Happy birthday, baby."

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